July 15, 2024
Is Cracker Barrel’s #Girlboss CEO Trying to Make It the New Bud Light?

Is Cracker Barrel’s #Girlboss CEO Trying to Make It the New Bud Light?

(Ben Sellers, Headline USA) Countless studies have confirmed that evil happens incrementally.

Consider, if you will, Penn State’s Milgram experiments of the early 196o, during which respondents were unwilling to administer a high dosage of electric shock to participants right off the bat, but they could be conditioned to do so when authorities began with smaller voltages, convincing the participants—despite their better judgment—that each slightly higher shock was equally harmless.

So it was when Cracker Barrel—the restaurant that epitomizes “white” culture right down to its name—first went “woke” by adding a meat substitute to its breakfast menu.

Customers made clear their disapproval of the virtue-signaling, no matter how innocuous, that seemed to chip away at the popular interstate-adjacent stop’s authenticity.

Nonetheless, the restaurant persevered, eliciting yet another scandal during last year’s “Pride” month, as conservative consumers were making clear to the brands most associated with their culture and values that they should avoid caving to the marketing temptation at their own peril.

Despite the backlash against Bud Light and several other companies who traded in their all-American image for the rainbow banner, Cracker Barrel unwisely unveiled its line of rainbow rockers and were promptly rebuked.

In July 2023, the company found itself at a crossroads with backlash beginning to rise and show signs of sagging sales.

The time was ripe to reconnect with its traditional customer base—although perhaps, as Anheuser–Busch found, its brand loyalists might have expected to see some form of comeuppance before rushing back.

Instead, the company ousted its longtime CEO, Sandra B. Cochran, in favor of an even woker alternative, Julie Felss Masino, who had spent the “bulk of her career” at Starbucks in a variety of management roles, according to a press release.

Rather than apologize for overreaching with its brand-tinkering, the announcement continued to emphasize the company’s commitment to ensuring “that Cracker Barrel remains a place where people feel welcomed and cared for like family as we extend our hospitality to an even broader array of guests.”

Not surprisingly, less than a year into her tenure, Masino made news this month for saying in May 16 conference call with investors that the company had lost its spark.

“We’re just not as relevant as we once were,” Masino said, amid reports that the restaurant had lost around 10% or more of its dine-in traffic—which largely consists of older diners age 65 and up—since the pandemic, the New York Post reported.

“[W]e are not leading in any area,” Masino said. “[T]he reality is we’ve lost some market share, especially at dinner.”

The company’s stock has dropped more than 40% in 2024, CBS News reported.

Its revenue has reportedly flatlined at $935.4 million, having grown little above the previous year, despite price increases implemented to offset inflation.

On the contrary, the company blamed the higher costs for putting off its regulars—and indeed that may be true in some cases.

Yet, it remained determined also to tinker with its successful formula while trying to modernize Cracker Barrel for a younger clientele.

“Some of our recipes and processes haven’t evolved in decades,” Masino complained, as if that were a liability for a brand built on its old-fashioned, nostalgic image.

She rolled out plans to revamp the restaurants, including using “a different color palette, updating lighting, offering more comfortable seating and simplifying decor and fixtures,” according to CBS News.

Changes to the menu thus far seemed largely positive and consistent with the company brand, including green-chili cornbread and banana pudding.

In the fall, the restaurant plans to role out several other new menu items such as:

  • Premium savory chicken and rice
  • Slow-braised pot roast
  • Hashbrown casserole shepherd’s pie

“The goal, simply put, was to freshen things in such a way as to be noticeable and attractive but still feel like Cracker Barrel,”Masino said.

Nonetheless, investors wary of similar acts of last resort at restaurants like Red Lobster, which is now undergoing a bankruptcy restructuring, feared that changes could lead to even more blowback for the brand as it loses sight of what makes it uniquely Cracker Barrel.

“Historically, Cracker Barrel has made limited changes to our design aesthetic, and we’ve probably relied a little too much on what was perceived to be the timeless nature of our concept,” she said.

In week following Masino’s conference call, the stock has reportedly dipped another 20%.

The company’s actions in the coming “Pride” month could be pivotal. While the national mood seems to be a return to normalcy following the perversion facilitated by the ESG movement at woke corporations, Masino’s urge to turn Cracker Barrel into a countrified Starbucks could make it a prime target if it steps into the political fray once again.

On the other hand, it could send an equally bold statement by doing absolutely nothing to commemorate the occasion and letting diners enjoy their food in peace, as they have come to expect, in a dankly-lit wood-paneled interior with random farm machinery and bits of Americana hanging on the walls and a peg game at every table.

That could help stem the losses, but if Cracker Barrel truly wants to grow, it could, better yet, double-down on its brand by going in the opposite direction and turning June into a month to celebrate old-fashioned, traditional values.

Ben Sellers is the editor of Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/realbensellers.

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